by Mary Brigid Barrett

ECA Book CoverThe Exquisite Corpse Adventure is a buoyant, spontaneous experiment—a progressive story game just like the one many families play on road trips, at camps, at parties, at home when there is a power outage. And just like in those games, characters spontaneously erupt out of one’s imagination; plots lines tumble forth, some realized, some lost; and we are often poised at the edge of a cliff with no logical solution in sight!

Children of all ages have played progressive story games for centuries, mainly because we all seek entertainment to appease the boredom of a long trip; warm a cool night by the fire; lighten the seemingly endless hours of dark winter.

John Cole at the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress wanted to come up with a reading outreach project for the new website (launched in 2009), and he asked me to join his talented staff on a brainstorming session. Rather than inviting one children’s author to write an episodic story to be published electronically, I thought it might be more interesting to assemble a “motley crew” of children’s book authors and illustrators to play the progressive story game that young people and adults play at home and social events, and have played for centuries! It goes by many names—Cliffhangers, Consequences, The Exquisite Corpse, etc. It is the game where one person begins a story, stops at a cliffhanging moment, and the next person picks it up and continues, and so on, until everyone in the group has the opportunity to contribute.

Progressive story games, like The Exquisite Corpse Adventure, can be played as an oral storytelling tradition, or in a written form, or even in a visual form as a drawing game. However the game is played out, its trademark elements are spontaneity, humor, bigger-than-life characters, and wild and wily plot threads, some of which inevitably remain unresolved!

I wanted to bring together a wide variety of writers and illustrators to play this story game—because the companion educational resources that the NCBLA created and coordinated with a number of its education and literacy partners would then encompass all kinds of reading suggestions and writing activities. And the story itself would then be much more vibrant and entertaining!

In order to try and retain the spontaneity of the original game, The Exquisite Corpse Adventure contributing authors had only a couple of days to brainstorm and then write their individual episodes. Each episode was then lightly edited and sent back to the author for a quick rewrite.

Even more fascinating, the illustrators operated in something of a blind, just like the Surrealists did when playing the visual version of The Exquisite Corpse! Each illustrator read the current episode, as well as the previous episodes, but they did not see the illustration that their colleagues have created for the previous episodes!

This amazing team of writers and illustrators made an extraordinary gift, donating their time and talent, working on extremely tight deadlines. Why did they do this? Because they know that reading hilarious stories on the Internet—and even more, reading great books––can be just as much fun as playing baseball, going to the movies, watching TV. They know that riveting stories offer a healthy escape where kids can get lost in whole new worlds. They believe what the NCBLA believes—that all young people must have equal access to exciting and interesting books and information sources that invite them to dream and give them the tools to achieve their dreams. And like the NCBLA they love the Library of Congress and the Library of Congress’ website and want kids to know it and love it, too!

Originally published on the Library of Congress’ website, The Exquisite Corpse Adventure is also available from Candlewick Press in hardcover, paperback, and audio formats.

The companion education resource center includes activities, discussion questions, and art appreciation ideas.

So please join us as The Exquisite Corpse Adventure game is played out by some of the most remarkable storytellers in our nation. We invite you all to play the game yourself––at home, at camp, at school, in the library, in the car, Sunday morning munching on French toast, Friday night instead of watching boring TV––even as Dr. Seuss would advise, “in a box with a fox!” Tell, read, write, and share stories everywhere!

A Collaborative Effort

The Exquisite Corpse Adventure is a project of the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress and the National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance. The NCBLA and the Butler Children’s Literature Center at Dominican University created the educational materials for The Exquisite Corpse Adventure.

Note: The biographies of NCBLA and Dominican University contributors reflect each person’s careers at the time The Exquisite Corpse Adventure and its companion education materials were originally published.

The National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance

The following NCBLA professionals worked together to direct all aspects of the creation of The Exquisite Corpse Adventure:

  • Mary Brigid Barrett is the founder, president, and executive director of the NCBLA.  She is the instigator and organizer of The Exquisite Corpse Adventure and all its appendages and is a member of the writing team for these web pages.
  • Geri Zabela Eddins is program director, researcher, and writer at the NCBLA. Among her organizational duties for The Exquisite Corpse Adventure is that of “schedule keeper,” which provides her and her family the very first glimpse of each and every Exquisite Corpse episode and illustration—truly one of the best job perks ever!  
  • Eden Edwards is the editor for The Exquisite Corpse Adventure. She is a writer and previously worked as an editor at Houghton Mifflin Children’s Publishing Company in Boston.
  • Elizabeth Rock designed the ECA pages, in addition to having created the initial version of the NCBLA’s main website and, the NCBLA’s companion educational website for our award-winning publication Our White House: Looking In, Looking OutThe rest of the time, mostly late, late at night, she is an editorial illustrator, whose illustrations have appeared in national newspapers, including The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Christian Science Monitor, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Minneapolis Star-Tribune, and The Toronto Star. She is almost entirely unknown for her unique body of work, a collection which veers between impenetrable allegorical representations of vague concepts, and miniscule, illegible drawings done most commonly on cocktail napkins, paper placemats, and the small, torn-off corners of things.

The Center for the Book in the Library of Congress

LOC Center for the Book LOGO101 Independence Ave., SE
Washington, DC 20540-4920
Phone: 202-707-5221
Fax: 202-707-0269

Congress established the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress by statute in 1977 to use the resources and prestige of the Library of Congress to stimulate public interest in books and reading. Through the years the center’s mission has expanded to include literacy and library promotion and encouraging the historical study of books, reading, and the printed word. The center’s audience always has included readers and potential readers of all ages.

The Center’s dynamic new website has been designed to pull together all of the Library’s literary-promotion programs into a single, accessible platform for readers of all ages. The serial story-telling journey, The Exquisite Corpse Adventure, is only one of the many extraordinary features appearing the site. Other attractions include online access to classic books and storybooks, teaching resources for educators and parents, lists of recommended reading, and information about literacy events.

The Library of Congress

LOC Black Logo SQUARE101 Independence Ave, SE
Washington, DC 20540
Phone: 202-707-5000

The Library of Congress, the nation’s oldest federal cultural institution, is the world’s preeminent reservoir of knowledge, providing unparalleled collections and integrated resources to Congress and the American people. As the largest library in the world, the Library’s collections boast millions of books, recordings, photographs, maps, and manuscripts. The Library’s mission is to make its resources available and useful to the Congress and the American people and to sustain and preserve a universal collection of knowledge and creativity for future generations. Many of the Library’s rich resources and treasures may be accessed through the Library’s website,, and via interactive exhibitions on

The Butler Children’s Literature Center at Dominican University

Dominican University LOGOThe Butler Children’s Literature Center at Dominican University serves as an examination center, collecting the best in American publishing every year and making it available to librarians, scholars, teachers, and parents. The Butler Center also maintains a permanent collection, including professional materials and historical titles of the canon. The Butler Center celebrates the spaces where books intersect. Impressions are informed by the individual stories, and by the ways they overlap and disagree and chafe and jibe, one with the next. The Curator oversees collections, built around a range of themes and issues, to offer information to, and to provoke curiosity in readers of all ages and the people who serve them. With a breadth of perspective, the Graduate School of Library and Information Science, the School of Education, and the Rebecca Crown Library at Dominican University work together to support our patrons’ wide variety of interests and needs. The Butler Center commits itself to thought and imagination and wonder, encouraging adults in libraries, classrooms, childcare centers, and homes to engage young people with good books. Dominican University is located in River Forest, Illinois.

The following members of the Dominican University community  created Exquisite Corpse Adventure education materials:

  • Jill Bambenek is the Public Services Librarian in the Rebecca Crown Library at Dominican University. She has worked as a children’s and a young adult librarian and reads teen novels every chance she gets. She used to have a Dorothy Hamill haircut and still dreams of landing a triple axel.
  • Denise R. Beckom is currently a Middle School Reading Teacher at May Community Academy in Chicago. She has served as an adjunct faculty member at Dominican. Denise holds master degrees in Reading from Dominican and Curriculum and Instruction from National Lewis University. She has been the recipient of two Chicago Foundation for Education (CFE) grants for Picture This and Clues You Can Use, with a thematic focus on the instruction of reading strategies to struggling adolescent readers.
  • Thom Barthelmess, Curator at the Butler Center, is a lecturer in the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at Dominican University, specializing in literature for young people, and programs and services in public and school libraries that bring books to life for young people of all ages. He loves to sing, makes a mean chicken pot pie, and came within spitting distance of pursuing a career as a dancer. Thom is also current President of the Association for Library Service to Children, a Division of the American Library Association.
  • Kristina Fitzgerald: I have been a classroom teacher for five years. My first four years in the classroom were as a general education language arts teachers for 7th and 8th grade students. This year, I moved positions to become the reading interventionist within my building. I am currently responsible for helping 6th, 7th and 8th grade students who have not reached grade level standards on the ISAT. I love my new position, which is being a reading teacher all day! I have been preparing for my reading position by being a graduate student at Dominican University, where I am studying for a Masters of Arts in Education as a Reading Specialist. My graduation date is summer of 2010! When I am not working full time or attending graduate classes, all my free time is spent with my three year old son, Connor, who is the highlight of my life.
  • Kimberly Gow, a National Board Certified teacher, is currently providing Reading and Writing instruction to upper grade students in the Chicago Public Schools system. Kimberly holds a B.A. in English and an MAED from Dominican University, as well as a Reading Specialist certificate in the state of Illinois. Her latest endeavor is teaching as an adjunct professor in the Graduate School of Education at Dominican University where she utilizes her passion, knowledge, and experience in Reading to teach and mentor developing teachers and future Reading Specialists. Aside from her dedication to reading, Kimberly also has a passion for dancing! She has spent the last four years developing and implementing a Ballroom Dancing program for middle school students, not only to teach them coordination and dance, but also to help students develop confidence and self-esteem, as well as build relationships through communication, teamwork, and respect.
  • Janice M. Del Negro, PhD, is an Assistant Professor at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at Dominican University, where she teaches children’s literature, young adult literature, storytelling, and foundations of library and information science. When she was a girl growing up in the Bronx, she found her way into the folk and fairy tale section of the public library and has lived there ever since. Her first picture book, Lucy Dove (1998) won the Anne Izard Storytelling Award; her second picture book, Willa and the Wind (2005), was an ALA Notable Book. Del Negro’s latest book, a collection of supernatural tales for young adults entitled Passion and Poison, was released in 2007. Professor Del Negro happily serves on the planning board for the Butler Children’s Literature Center.
  • Don Hamerly developed his love of language and irony in the creole lowlands of his native Southeast Texas before expatriating to the Midwest and Dominican, where he is assistant professor in the Graduate School of Library and Information Science and Director of the School Library Media Program. Seeking the lyrical in the mundane, Don has skipped and drummed his way for twenty years among learners and library goers, uttering joyous praise for knowing.
  • Michael Leonard is a former public library children’s and humanities librarian. He recently retired as a full time instructor in the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at Dominican University. He is continuing on as an adjunct faculty member teaching, Materials for Children, Storytelling, Services for Children and YA and Reference in the Humanities. Michael’s love of poetry got him appointed as a judge on the 2009 Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award committee. His favorite food is Pasta Bolognese from which he is continuously fighting against an expanding waistline. The waistline continues to expand once a year as he boards luxurious cruise ships that take him to many ports of call, where even more luscious foods seem to be awaiting his arrival.
  • Marilyn Ludolph, Ed.D, after 35 years of service in public education as a teacher and administrator (elementary and middle school principal), has become an assistant professor at Dominican University. Most recently, she was appointed Assistant Dean in the School of Education. Marilyn’s passion, besides teaching, is her family –– her grown-up children and a new grandson, Noah! Long an advocate of literacy, Marilyn works with graduate students who are seeking a Reading Teacher Endorsement or a Reading Specialist Certification. Representing the School of Education as a partner with the Graduate School of Library Information Science and the Rebecca Crown Library on the planning board of Butler Center for Children’s Literature at Dominican University, Marilyn is gratified to have the opportunity to collaborate with her students to create activities and generate information in conjunction with The Exquisite Corpse Adventure.
  • Vicki Rakowski is a student in Dominican University’s Graduate School of Library and Information Science.
  • Liz Skrodzki most closely identifies with highly moral Nancy, who is “valiant.” Liz is adamant about correct grammar yet returns again and again to the EC line “detrain before de train demolishes.” She once directed a children’s theater, did Public Relations for professional theater and, as a veteran teacher, spent the last decade in middle schools. When she completes her Reading Endorsement at Dominican she will have more time to learn the art of storytelling!
  • Meg Sullivan is an English teacher at Addison Trail High School in Addison, Illinois and has a B.A. in English from Northwestern University and an M.A.T from Dominican University. Meg is currently completing her reading endorsement in the School of Education at Dominican University.
  • Sarah Taylor is currently teaching special education in a sixth grade classroom at Blackhawk Middle School in Bensenville, Illinois. She is currently working on getting her Master of Arts in Education as a Reading Specialist. In what free time remains, she enjoys coaching her 7th or 8th grade girls’ basketball team (depending on the year), spending as much time as humanly possible playing with her nephew, and curling up on the couch with a good book and her cats.
  • Raynell Walls is currently serving as a (K – 8) Literacy Coach at Alessandro Volta Elementary School in Chicago. She is a National Board Certified Teacher (in Early Adolescent-English Language Arts) and has served as an adjunct faculty member at Dominican. Raynell holds a master’s degree in Reading from Dominican and a master’s degree in Educational Administration from Northeastern Illinois University. In 2008, Raynell received the Chicago Public School DRIVE (Delivering Results Through Innovative and Visionary Education) award, the highest recognition given in the Chicago Public School system.
  • Melanie Walski taught in the primary grades for nine years in Los Angeles before returning to the Chicago area to pursue a Master’s Degree in Education with a Reading Specialist Certification. She worked in the fashion and costume industries before realizing they were far too dull compared to the chaotic joy of a classroom full of second-graders. She is Mom to an adorable 4-year-old son and a deceptively cute but ferocious 14-year-old cat.

A Final Word of Thanks

The NCBLA would like to thank not only our partners at the Library of Congress and the Butler Center, but also the talented employees at Candlewick Press who graciously donated their time and technical expertise to scan many of The Exquisite Corpse Adventure illustrations. Thank You!